MANILA— The health department on Wednesday vowed to ramp up its immunization drive against diseases preventable by available vaccines, saying authorities also target to vaccinate at least 95 percent of Filipino children by yearend.
The Department of Health (DOH) said it has started its catch-up vaccination drive for diseases like measles, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus and human papilloma virus.
The agency also wanted to achieve the targets as the country continues its COVID-19 inoculation drive, which has recently been expanded to the general population and to those age 13 to 17 with comorbidities.
The current immunization coverage for Metro Manila for preventable diseases, they said, is only at 24.3 percent for the first half of the year, while this is 30 percent nationwide.
Of the figure, 1.1 million are infants and about 4 million are children ages 6 to 7 years old. Children aged 12 to 13, meanwhile, are yet to be vaccinated, they said.
This is crucial, according to DOH, as hospitals get swamped with COVID-19 cases and as the government mulled the return of face-to-face classes.
”Ayaw po natin na mangyari iyon, ayaw natin makipag-kompetensya sa COVID na kung saan marami rin pong nao-ospital,” said Dr. Beverly Ho, director of the DOH Disease Prevention and Control Bureau.
(We don't want it to happen that people would go to hospitals after being infected with a vaccine-preventable disease.)
”Kasi 'yung mga sintomas ng mga measles, ng mga sakit na ‘to medyo minsan kapareho ng sintomas ng COVID so medyo hindi tayo matatakot," she added.
(The symptoms of measles and these diseases are the same with COVID-19. Being vaccinated against it lessens our worry.)
Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) Chairman Benhur Abalos, meanwhile, said mayors in the capital region have agreed to adopt a 15-day straight immunization plan in their localities.
”Kung papabayaan mo ito delikado sa mga bata ito, baka magkaroon sila ng outbreak kaya napagkasunduan ng mga mayors sa Metro Manila Council na 15 days dere-derechong bakuna," said Abalos.
(If you neglect this, there might be an outbreak. This is why mayors in Metro Manila agreed that there would be 15 days straight of vaccinations.)
"Pahinga kaunti tapos 15 days na naman, pahinga konti until we reach 85 percent and then after that twice a week na lang,” he added.
(After that, there would be a lull, then we would vaccinate for 15 days straight again, until we reach that target)
IMMUNIZATION COVERAGE IN PH DIPS
House-to-house vaccinations will be implemented in Metro Manila while those in the provinces would depend on their community health centers, authorities noted.
But numbers also showed that vaccine hesitancy remained high, leading to a downward immunization coverage in the past years, UNICEF said, citing data from the DOH.
In 2015, immunization coverage went down to 70 percent and by 2020, it declined further to 65.2 percent.
Health officials earlier cited controversy over the Dengvaxia anti-dengue vaccine for the decline in recent years.
”It means that the number of children who are at risk if getting infected with deadly diseases has been growing over the years and it is made even worse by the pandemic," said Dr. Mariella Sugue-Castillo, the UNICEF Representative in the Philippines.
"This is worrying and demands urgent attention, we cannot let the country’s routine immunization coverage decrease any further otherwise this can lead to an even greater crisis which we cannot afford to have,” Castillo added.
The World Health Organization agreed that the country must catch-up with its routine health programs and immunization plan as the pandemic persists
”It is now clear that this pandemic will not end, we have to live with COVID-19 so it becomes imperative that we find the ways to bring back routine health services because if we do not do so the consequences could be catastrophic," said WHO's representative to the Philippines Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe.
But the DOH said the country's vaccination rate for COVID-19 proves that the government could do mass immunization for these vaccine-preventable diseases.
The government could also catch up on immunization coverage in over 10 days, based on the country's capacity to administer COVID-19 vaccines.
”Before, wala tayong comparison na ano 'yung kaya nating bakunahan but now we’re seeing because of COVID-19 vaccination possible nga tayong mag-half a million jabs di ba in a day, mukhang malaki 'yung number but it is possible,” Ho explained.
(Before, we do not have any comparison regarding the vaccination status. But we now know due to our COVID-19 vaccinations that this is possible)
In early June, UNICEF, the WHO, and the DOH announced that the Philippines is polio-free again, after an outbreak was recorded in 2019.
The government managed to administer 30 million oral polio vaccines from 2019 to 2021, with 11 million Filipino children vaccinated against the disease.